Lindesay Irvine, The Guardian, June 11, 2008
Indra Sinha, author of Animal’s People, has begun a hunger strike in New Delhi to protest the neglect of Bhopal disaster survivors
Indra Sinha … ‘I hope that people will look at what’s happening in Bhopal with new eyes’. Photograph: Guardian/Martin Godwin
Indra Sinha, author of a Booker-shortlisted novel about the impact of a loosely fictionalised version of the Bhopal chemical disaster, has begun an indefinite hunger strike in support of survivors still suffering from the effects of the devastating 1984 chemical leak.
Animal’s People author Sinha stopped taking food on June 10, marking the beginning of a global fast intended by campaigners to bring US giant Dow Chemical to court in India to face criminal and civil charges relating to the disaster.
In December 1984, Union Carbide’s pesticides factory released a cloud of highly toxic gases over the central Indian city of Bhopal that killed 8,000 people immediately, according to Amnesty International, and injured half a million. Dow took over Union Carbide in 2001, inheriting a legacy that has seen at least another 15,000 deaths and a second health epidemic, resulting from severe contamination at the now abandoned site, that affects another 25,000.
Sinha, who lives in France, has joined nine Bhopal campaigners fasting in New Delhi, seven of whom have been severely affected by either gas or water contamination.
Nearly three months ago, 50 people aged between 4 and 80 walked 500 miles from Bhopal to Delhi to seek a meeting with Indian prime minster Manmohan Singh. Since the end of March, they have been camped out nearby, but no meeting has yet been granted. Last month, children affected by water contamination chained themselves outside Singh’s residence, but were arrested. The hunger strike comes as a “last resort”, designed to force government to fulfil promises over rehabilitation schemes in Bhopal and legal action against Dow.
A passage in Animal’s People, shortlisted for the last year’s Booker, contains a parallel scene in which three characters embark upon a “fast unto death” in order to persuade government officials to ditch a treacherous deal with the company responsible for the disaster. Though it’s not clear how long Sinha plans to go without food, the present campaign comes in response to the government of India’s reported negotiations with Dow Chemical aimed at ending the company’s Bhopal liabilities. Despite what was declared in 1989 as a final settlement for damages, suffering continues and protesters insist there remain unanswered charges of mass homicide and civil actions concerning clean-up of the heavily polluted plant site.
In a statement last night, Sinha said, “Those poisoned in Bhopal continue to sicken and die, without help, without compassion, without justice, because the politicians in Delhi want to do business with their killers. These canaille refuse to honour the law, blindfold themselves against justice, and, by their inaction, condemn thousands of the citizens they are sworn to protect to fear, pain, suffering and death.”